How I Got My Job - Suzie Plumb
In the third instalment of Fleur and Arbor Careers Month, Jasmine interviews Suzie Plumb, Arts Development Officer at Camden Council, to find out about her career highlights and journey into the arts sector.
F&A: What did you plan on doing after university?
SP: I really had no idea what I wanted to do after university. My first degree was in Economics and Management and I am amazed I managed to finish it! After I graduated I found I was reading a lot of history, history of art and architecture texts so I thought I would find a job that would mean I could do this at work. I had also spent some time designing and making furniture and so wanted a career which enabled me to be creative with ideas. Working with museums and cultural organisations seemed like an exciting, varied and meaningful way of being creative.
F&A: What set you on your path of working in the arts?
SP: I approached my local museum to see if they had any internships available and was lucky enough to start my career working with Brighton Museum & Art Gallery during a major redevelopment. I worked with designers and fellow curators to redevelop permanent galleries at the museum, telling new stories and revealing hidden ones. This led to my role as a curator of film and media, looking after internationally significant historical collections and developing associated temporary exhibitions. I also spent some time working with the programming team to develop the exhibition programme for Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Working with Brighton and Hove museums was really fantastic. I was able to curate exhibitions which presented new ideas such as Guys n Dolls, an exploration into representations of the human in doll form in art, science and relationships and Experimental Motion, experimental filmmaking from 1897 – 2017.
F&A: Describe a typical working day in your current role?
SP: I am currently curating and managing a large arts and cultural project as part of my role as Arts Development Officer for Camden Council. This project, Camden Alive is funded by The Mayor of London’s Office as part of the London Borough of Culture programme. I am working with 14 artists who have teamed up with residents from ten social housing neighbourhoods in the borough as well as people from across Camden. Together they will collaborate, sharing ideas and stories to make new work which celebrates the creativity and diversity of Camden people. The artworks will be presented through exhibition, performance and through a bespoke augmented reality app on the streets of Camden. Every day is different for me. I meet with artists, residents, community groups and technology specialists to curate the programme and manage the projects. Usually this is on-site so I have been able to get to know lots of neighbourhoods and some amazing and epic social housing architecture. I also develop partnerships for the project with the many cultural organisations in Camden, including Arts Catalyst, The Roundhouse, The Place for contemporary dance, Central St Martins, British Museum and Camden Arts Centre.
F&A: Have there been any career defining moments for you?
SP: I started managing a project, Kentish Delights, with a colleague for Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery and this project led us to really think about ways in which we, as curators, could break down barriers to engagement with arts and culture for those people who might not be accessing museums & galleries for a variety of reasons. We devised the Hoodwink project, funded by Arts Council England, which saw 9 artists commissioned to make site-specific work in unusual venues with large numbers of users. We worked with artists and communities to develop work that reflected that site and infiltrated the venue’s space and harnessed its visual and written language. Site-specific artwork was installed on the shelves, in the freezers and on the roofs of familiar spaces. This project saw work from Adam Chozdko in B&Q Gillingham, Simon Faithfull in Morrisons supermarket and Hollington & Kyprianou in Wilkos homestore, Folkestone as well as site-specific artist’s work in music venues, pubs and shops across Kent. These projects meant a shift away from working within the traditional museum and gallery and found ways to bring objects, art and culture to people in their own familiar and well used spaces. The Hoodwink project saw an evolution in my curatorial practice, always a little experimental, to include working outside of traditional display spaces. This work led me to my current role as an arts development officer, working with residents, communities, artists and cultural partners on projects which present art on the streets, outdoor performances, exhibitions and through smart phone technologies.
F&A: What surprises you about your role?
SP: I am sometimes surprised by how different my days can be. I am really lucky to be working with a lot of fantastic people across Camden from a range of backgrounds and ages. I am working with some extraordinary people, often unpaid, who are dedicated to working with their communities, young people and people in need. Every day I meet with someone who has a great story to tell and who is infectious with their enthusiasm. The best part of my job is working with people, sharing ideas and seeing how we can make a difference to people’s lives.
F&A: What advice can you give to those looking to start a career in a similar role?
SP: Get involved with projects as much as you can within the limits of your situation. Despite the huge cuts to the arts there are still projects happening and getting experience is always really useful. Working with your local community organisations is also a really good way to get experience, start developing project ideas and getting funding for projects. There is strength in coming together to share ideas and skills, which can lead to lots of opportunities.
Suzie is currently leading the Camden Alive project.
your story our culture
Camden Alive is a programme of arts and cultural events that celebrates the people of Camden. Sharing our diverse heritage through creativity, Camden Alive will capture the sights, sounds and spirit of the borough and what it means to live and work in Camden. Through music, dance, food, fashion, design, performance and visual art the stories of our neighbourhoods will unfold and be showcased by the creation of the virtual Camden People’s Museum. Presented through web-based augmented reality the museum will illuminate and animate these stories, revealing the vibrant individual and collective culture of Camden.
Camden Alive is part of the Mayor’s London Borough of Culture and is a Mayor’s Cultural Impact Award winner.
London Borough of Culture is a Mayor of London initiative with support from the City of London Corporation’s Charity, City Trust Bridge and Airbnb.
Images © Simon Waller
Interview by Jasmine Farram